One of the most talked about topics in the business technology arena today is ‘big data’. But what is big data, and why is it important? Put simply, big data refers to sets of data that are too large, too diverse and too complex for organisations to manage with their existing IT systems. With companies both large and small accumulating data at an increasingly rapid rate and from a variety of new sources, the challenge is to harness that data so that it can be used for strategic business purposes.
Essentially there are two types of big data: structured and unstructured. Structured data is the type of data that can be stored neatly in fields within a relational database. Email addresses, postcodes, phone numbers and job titles, for example, can all be placed in fields and can therefore be regarded as structured data. The other type is unstructured data, which is what big data is primarily all about. Unstructured data refers to data that does not fit into a pre-defined data model. It has been estimated that up to 90 percent of any organisation’s data is unstructured and includes such data as emails, videos, social media content, photos, presentations, website pages, audio files and a variety of business documents.
The unstructured form of big data matters because of the enormous opportunities it offers businesses of all shapes and sizes. Until recently there was not the technology available to adequately store, access, manage and analyse large volumes of unstructured data. But all that has changed. Today’s business owners and executives now have access to business intelligence tools that can leverage the power of big data to gain new insights, improve decision making, solve difficult problems and achieve a competitive advantage.
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